I’ve been singing and dancing with my family since I was a little girl. Holidays are a big deal for us and it’s a tradition for the “youngins” to provide entertainment at family events; singing, dancing, stepping, the playing of instruments, you name it; it’s been done. I learned so much about performance and show-womanship from my family, especially from my mother. My dance journey started when I was nine years old. My mom put me in a summer dance camp at Flair Dance Studio in Baltimore, MD. I started with 3 of my friends, and at first it was just another bonding opportunity for us, but I ended up falling in love with dance class. We also did vocal music, acting, tennis, chess, and visual art at the camp. My parents would always say they wanted me to be well rounded, so this camp was perfect for that reason.
After that Summer I never stopped taking dance. Tap, Jazz, and ballet were the first forms I studied at the studio. “Contemporary” wasn’t really a thing in the studio where I grew up. The type of dancing we did was rooted in the history of black dance & performance- I remember the owner, Willia Bland, always raving about vaudeville, black broadway, the legacy of companies like dance theatre of harlem, garth fagan, philadanco,alvin ailey, and so on.. . I did a lot of liturgical dance as well which has its own history and aesthetic value, particularly in communities of black people. Black performers were my inspiration at an early age, and continue to be a central source of inspiration.
All of my teachers were black- Mari Andrea Travis, Carl Pitts, Kamara Boyd, to name a few. I think having black teachers kept my heart in it and knowing that there was a legacy to carry on kept me motivated from the inside. I loved movement, but I also was obsessed with the meaning dance could make. I have to thank Mari Andrea Travis for that.
When it was time to go to middle school I applied and auditioned for the program at Sudbrook Magnet Middle. I took dance, theater and music for 90 minutes every other day like my other academic courses. It was like the specialty centers here in RVA but for middle school. That was the best time of my life, honestly. I learned so much about dance, and my teacher Maria Royals (Rodgers at the time) laid a really excellent technical foundation in ballet and modern. I also studied with former Pennsylvania Ballet Company dancer Laura Dolid. I got really solid pointe training in middle school, and in hindsight I wish I would have been encouraged more to continue studying the form. Anyway!
I still have friends I’ve known since middle school. It’s actually funny, I didn’t get into the performing arts high schools they got into, but I ended up reuniting with some of them in college!
I wasn’t accepted into those high schools, I think mostly because I lost my mother in November of 2009. So I went to a private school instead- the Bryn Mawr School for Girls. It was academically rigorous (known for its amazing english department), but they had a dance dance company & a few dance courses in which I continued to perform and choreograph.I performed in musicals and sang in our acapella choir, too, but dance was alway the focus. I learned so much about writing, self advocacy, college, and life going there. I was grateful for my time there even though it took me a while to feel it fully.
When college application time came.. while my peers were applying to Yale, Brown, Harvard, every ivey all the well known schools.. I had my eyes on schools that had awesome dance programs, in an urban setting, with diversity- NYU/The Ailey School, Adelphi, UNCG, VCU, I forget where else I applied; But I was sure that I was going to get a degree in dance. I didn’t waste my time trying to fit in with my peers in high school. I was confident in seeking something that was right for me.
When I toured the VCU campus I I told my father, “ Dad, this my school!” I hadn’t even auditioned yet, but I knew I belonged there. The audition day was amazing. I love that we got to watch a class before we auditioned, that really made me feel exhilarated. My time at VCU was awesome. But I’ll abbreviate my enthusiastic account and say the experiences I had with companies and dance artists at VCU dance were so richly beneficial. The most pivotal experiences were with Maria Bauman, Rennie Harris,meeting Liz Lerman/the Dance Exchange and performing Still Crossing, seeing Camille A Brown & dancers perform Mr. Tol E. Rance, A panel discussion with Brenda Dixon Gottschild, a talk with VCU alum for the department’s 35th anniversary, seeing a performance by & participating in workshops with Nora Chipaumire, and being mentored by MK ABADOO (I know I’m name dropping a lot, if you don’t know who they are LOOK THEM UP). These guest artists inspired me: gave me agency; taught me the value of inclusion, diversity, & equity; how to value the africanist aesthetic; shared self care practices; and how to utilize storytelling in one’s choreographic process.
Several amazing mentorships and partnerships emerged while I was at VCU. They allowed me to explore outside of the confines of classroom study. I worked closely with Lea Marshal on social media, I supported the process of preparing for ACDA when we hosted it, she and I had a really cool dynamic that birthed more understanding of writing about dance, writing to fund projects, and any/everything arts management & administration. Another lovely partnership developed with one of my colleagues too, Jelani Taylor. I’m so happy I became such good friends with such an overly ambitious, inquiring human. Our friendship and personal interests fueled our artmaking and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Even to this day, Jelani and I are always making this dance thing real in our lives. By the time I graduated, Jelani and I ended up co-creating 2 two evening length performances and I completing a self designed, Research project entitled ‘Decolonizing Dance’, and participated in a Social Justice project called #donttouchmyhairRVA, all of them VCUarts grant funded. It’s such an amazing feeling having an institution financially back your vision and interests.
Now I’m very particular about “community”: the way I serve communities, which communities of artists I’m a part of and how I impart knowledge about community on the people in my sphere. The research project I did was informed by my experience at Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute. It was at SLI 2017 where I understood what “community” really is, the necessary steps for entering, building, and exit-ing community, I got a sense of what being a part of a community felt like (outside of a church or family setting). A key observation was the way collaboration facilitated community. For a long time, especially in undergrad, I was an “independent thinker” and didn’t really enjoy group work. Now, I thrive in collaboration, I need it. I made one of my best pieces this summer in collaboration with a musician, Chet Frierson. It’s the only piece I desperately want to revisit. Anyway. Africanist Influence, Research, Community, Collaboration, make my dance world go ‘round. I perform, choreograph, teach/facilitate, read, write.. All the things.